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Article Greenland: Ban on Uranium Mining Enters into Force

On December 2, 2021, a law prohibiting preliminary investigation, exploration, and exploitation of uranium entered into force in Greenland on the day following its promulgation. (Inatsisartutlov nr. 20 af 1. december 2021 om forbud mod forundersøgelse, efterforskning og udnyttelse af uran mv. [Greenlandic Parliament Act of December 1, 2021, on a Ban on Preliminary Investigation, Exploration and Exploitation of Uranium, etc.].) The new law bans mining only for uranium; the mining of other minerals, such as copper, is still allowed.

The new law provides that the preliminary investigation, exploration, and exploitation of uranium is prohibited unless they were directed at something other than uranium and the average uranium content of the total resource is below 100 ppm by weight. (§ 1; § 1, para. 2.) The Greenlandic government may also lay down rules that specify that the mining prohibition in § 1 may apply to radioactive elements other than uranium. Such rules may cover permissible limit values and the restriction and revocation of permits for the preliminary study, exploration, or utilization of the radioactive elements in question. (§ 2.)

The law also provides that the government may impose fines for violations of section 1 and that companies (“legal persons”) may be held criminally liable in accordance with Chapter 5 of the Greenlandic Criminal Code. (§ 4; § 4, para. 2.) Moreover, administrative regulations drawn up in accordance with the new law may provide for fines that would accrue to the National Treasury for violations of the regulations . (§ 4, para. 3.)

Greenland is a sovereign part of Denmark, and the Danish Act on Parliament and Government (Inatsisartutlov om Inatsisartut og Naalakkersuisut) provides that the Greenlandic Parliament has legislative authority over all areas of policy that the Danish Parliament has delegated to it. (Act on Parliament and Government § 1.) Mineral legislation came under the domain of Greenland’s home rule in 2009, giving Greenlanders the power to govern and legislate in the area of mineral resources. (Act on Greenland Self-Governance § 7.)

The Greenlandic Parliament voted to adopt the law on November 9, 2021, when members approved the government proposal that formed the basis of the new government’s successful election campaign. Before the vote on the law, the government had sent out the proposal for public stakeholder review, which produced more than 60 individual responses. At the time of adoption, there were no current uranium mining excavation projects in Greenland, but uranium is found in the course of excavating other minerals.

This is not the first time Greenland has had a uranium-mining ban in force. The Greenlandic Parliament lifted a uranium ban in 2013, ending a ban on mining exploration of uranium and other minerals first adopted in the 1950s.

The legislation is part of the Greenlandic government’s focus on climate change. On October 25, 2021, the government announced that it was joining the Paris Agreement by declaring the removal of its territorial reservation for Greenland but without committing to any specific measures to reduce CO2 emissions. On November 11, 2021, the government, following its accession to the Paris Agreement, entered into an alliance of countries (the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance) that is focused on limiting the adverse impact of oil and gas on the environment. In entering the alliance, Greenland has pledged not to issue any further oil exploration licenses.

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